Hyderabad is the city behind India's most successful film franchise / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The producer of the highest-grossing Indian film ever explains why Hyderabad, where it was filmed, is India's best city

Baahubali: The Conclusion is the phenomenon that’s sweeping the globe. The fantasy epic grossed $120 million worldwide in its first week – making it the highest grossing Indian film of all time. Shobu Yarlagadda, producer of the record-breaking films Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion, shares his love of his home city where the films were made – Hyderabad. 

The Baahubali guide to Hyderabad

My city, home of the Baahubali film franchise that seems to have captivated the world, is like that of its cinema: bold, bright and theatrical. Hyderabad sits in the middle of India within Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, two states wielding the highest density of cinema screens in the country. Cinema is a craze in my city; the film industry runs in our blood. But unlike Bollywood, which is based in Mumbai, Hyderabad’s brand of cinema is a whole other story – dubbed “Tollywood” to reflect that the films made here are usually in the Telugu language, rather than Hindi.

Baahubali is an epic two-part project that took five years to complete, including 613 shooting days. One location in particular became a second home to cast and crew – Hyderabad's Ramoji Film City, where 95 per cent of the film was shot. This 1,666-acre behemoth, opened in 1996, holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest film studio complex in the world. It is a city within a city, with its own hotels, amusement parks, gardens and nature parks. One major set from our films is still standing, while others were created and unmade as needed during shooting by Ramoji’s in-house artisans.

Though a big part of life here, the film industry isn’t all Hyderabad has to offer. Surprising to some (but not to me), it has been named India’s top city to live in for the third time in a row. Excellent transport links, great quality of life, abundant public spaces, and less pollution and traffic than other parts of India are just a few ways in which it outstrips the pack. Our production designer Sabu Cyril even relocated his family to Hyderabad while working on the film because he fell in love with this city.

It’s a cosmopolitan place in many ways, boasting a thriving technology industry, plus upscale restaurants and shops. While Telugu and Hindi are the most widely spoken languages, it is easy enough to get by in English. Old Hyderabad is a predominantly Islamic area, but the city is filled with a vibrant mix of Muslims and Hindus who coexist peacefully. New Hyderabad is more global, with skyscrapers shaping the burgeoning financial district; and the combination of the ancient and the modern is beautiful.

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Hyderabad has a blend of ancient and modern architecture (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Our food, too, is famous across India. Pathar ka ghost – lamb grilled on a hot stone – is a traditional Muslim-influenced dish, and during the festival of Eid, Hyderabad’s Haleem (a stew composed of meat, lentils and pounded wheat) is hugely popular. Typical Telugu food ranges from idli (savoury cakes) and dosa (pancakes) to our tiffin (light meals). The latter includes the classic combination of pesarattu – a green mung dhal dosa – stuffed with upma – a semolina dish – served with savoury coconut chutneys and sambar – lentil soup – to dip into. Locally harvested snake gourd or bottle gourd, which are squash-like vegetables, are tasty alternatives for vegetarians, as is a pulusu, made with aubergine in a tangy yet mild tamarind sauce.

There’s also traditional culture to take in – Kuchipudi, a dance-drama performance art, is part of the Hindu classical heritage of the city, as is Carnatic music, and it’s easy to catch a recital while visiting. 

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Hyderabad has been named the best place to live in India (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Shobu Yarlagadda's Hyderabad 

Walk: Take a heritage walk from Charminar mosque in the old city at night, with the sounds and sights of the old bazaars, selling everything from bangles and antiques to local ittar perfumes (aka attar). Then walk to the grand ancient mosque, Mecca Masjid, before taking in the regal Chowmahalla Palace.

Listen: Hit Golconda Fort for the evening light and sound show, featuring traditional sounds of the city plus a voiceover from Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.

Visit: The Salarjung Museum on the southern bank of the Musi River is well worth a visit. It is one of the largest museums in the world, and one of three national museums in India, boasting 1.1 million objects. These include rare paintings by the legendary Raja Ravi Varma, Aurangzeb's sword, a wardrobe of Tipu Sultan, and a furniture collection with pieces from the time of King Louis XIV and Napoleon. Plus it has a famous Islamic Quran collection. 

See: Enjoy unmissable views at 2,000ft with a night’s stay or dinner at Taj Falaknuma Palace.

Eat: Typical Hyderabadi biryani can be found at 4 Seasons in Tolichowki, while Chutneys and Simply South serve top-notch andhra tiffin. For fusion food, head to Fusion Nine and Haiku.

As told to Ashanti Omkar

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